You may remember that the Times-Advocate covered a community volunteer day back on October 8; but what you may not know is that the West Side of Escondido was not the only place getting cleaned up. Which brings us to Emmanuel Faith Community Church.
So what does a church have to do with cleaning up Escondido?
The TA recently sat down with Hector Morales, pastor of Community Outreach for Emmanuel Faith Community Church to talk to him about the church’s involvement in cleaning up the City of Escondido.
Pastor Morales said, “It has always been part of our history. We have always wanted to be a church that impacts a community,” since its founding in October 1939. “It’s something that’s always been in our DNA, it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.”
It’s been the last twenty years that the church has really got involved in the community, Morales says.
Pastor Morales describes how he started working at the church about 19 years ago. Morales was born and raised in Escondido. He grew up attending Iglesia Latina Emanuel, a Spanish language church located off 5th Avenue in Old Escondido that was created by Emmanuel Faith.
In his late teens Morales returned to Emmanuel Faith to join the Youth Group while still attending Iglesia Latina Emanuel with his parents. When Morales started college in 1993 he “made Emmanuel Faith Church my home,” because he “wanted a service in English,” and other college students were attending the church.
Morales was part of the College Ministry and served one year over the summer, in the church’s Junior High Ministry while attending college at Cal State San Marcos. He also worked at San Pasqual High School tutoring for a college prep class called AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). AVID helps either first-generation college students or ethnic-minorities do well in academics.
While helping the students, Morales “started to realize that students didn’t have anyone to help them with their homework once they got home.” That’s what really gave him, “the desire when given the opportunity to come on staff here.”
He wanted to do more to help with outreach to Hispanic students. “That’s what allowed me to — or gave me the idea to — be in the neighborhood during those after-school hours working with students and helping them in their own neighborhood,” he said.
Morales doesn’t consider himself a “community organizer.” “I just felt like I wanted to help youth.” He continued, “I grew up here in Escondido in the West Side of town where there are gangs, so I knew that getting assistance with academics outside school hours,” was hard.
In June 1997 Emmanuel Faith hired Morales as an intern in the high school ministry. That November he started the Bridge, an after-school tutoring program geared towards mostly Latino neighborhoods in Escondido. In 2004 Morales became Director of Community Outreach, and soon after was promoted to pastor.
The Bridge it is a ministry that serves the community in several ways. For the past ten years, volunteers from the program have helped students in grades K-12 K with their scholastic and spiritual needs three days a week.
The Bridge has an ESL (English as a Second Language) course for adults that started in 2007 and has been very well received by. The Bridge also has meal teams who provide food for children on Wednesday nights. After dinner volunteers transport the children to Emmanuel Faith Community Church to participate in children and youth ministries. They also have parenting classes, a gift program that provides over 300gifts across the community and a program to encourage people to adopt children in America or overseas.
They hope to someday start a music program, small group leaders for adults in Spanish, adult bible studies in Spanish for women, men and couples and a computer technology ministry.
Regarding the Neighborhood Transformation Project and the church’s work on the West Side, Pastor Morales said, “It’s not just about saying things are terribly wrong here. It’s about what we can together as a community do to improve the situation and how we can lock arms together and say we are going to do this together.”
Pastor Morales also believes “that one of the strongest units that our society has is the family” and wants to urge strong family values. “Everything we do here even at the church we want to make sure we are affirming families and encouraging healthy families,” he said.
Morales said, “Once we’ve gotten out into the neighborhood and doing some different cleanup projects we begin to see the residents also come out and do it.”
Regarding the October 8 community volunteer day: “We had over one-hundred and fifty volunteers at Grape Day Park, the Center for the Arts and the City Hall area to do all kinds of landscaping projects.” He added, “There was a group of about fifteen folks over at Oak Hill Elementary School that were doing a vegetable garden,” which “will help their garden to table program.” The church also had two different groups that went to senior homes or care facilities.”
The groups sang songs with the seniors who, “requested that the church bring a church service,” to their facilities.
Pastor Morales says family activities is one way they reach out to the community. “We have done things during Christmas where we gather the families together, and we have all the goodies such as tamales — which is a big thing in the Hispanic community around Christmas.” Morales joked: “I don’t discriminate a whole lot when it comes to tamales.”
The church is also trying to encourage adoption, both internationally and through the church’s own foster care system. “We’ve done respite days for foster care families and during December we do a gift drive that benefits foster care families in the community.” The church also provides gifts to an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, he says.
Other organizations the church provides gifts to during the holidays include the Alternative Women’s Center, and a crisis pregnancy care clinic, Solutions for Change, which helps the homeless located in Vista. All in all, the church provides a little over three-hundred gifts around North County and the orphanage in Mexico, he says.
The church partners with Inter- Faith Community Services every June for a food-drive. Morales says, “We’ve chosen June because that is when other groups aren’t doing food-drives, so we’ve tried to do it when they really need it.”
We asked Emmanuel Faith’s Senior Pastor Dennis Keating what he thought about the work being done by his church in the city of Escondido. “We should treat the city the way Jesus would. The church needs to train the parents, grand-parents, aunts and uncles on how to train the leaders of the next generation.”
As Pastor Morales put it: “We are here to serve you, what would you like us to do?”
For more information on Emmanuel Faith’s Community Outreach Program please go to: www.efcc.org/community outreach/ or you can contact Pastor Hector Morales at (760) 781-2159 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Special Thanks to Tracy Kreckman Photographer of Emmanuel Faith Community Church for providing photos for this story.